Washington Insider
FMCSA proposes two driver training rules

Paul Cullen Jr.
the Cullen Law Firm, PLLC

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has proposed rules on training new drivers and another that requires training of longer combination vehicle (LCV) drivers. The training would take place after a driver has obtained a CDL. 

While LCV drivers will receive training in the operation of such vehicles, new driver training involves only non-driving subjects. Those subjects are the hours-of-service rules, whistleblower protections, driver wellness and driver qualification.

HOS training would be timely given rule changes that take effect in January 2004. Whether the old or the new rule, the HOS is not necessarily an intuitive rule. OOIDA’s Truck Safety Month this past June exposed the misunderstanding of even the old rule among many carriers and drivers.

New drivers will also receive training in the motor carrier safety regulations related to driver qualification. Subjects under this training could include the requirements to obtaining a medical certificate and to undergoing periodic drug testing. 

Training in whistleblower protections would review regulations under the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

These rules allow company drivers and owner-operators to file a complaint with OSHA if they have experienced retaliation for refusing a carrier’s demand to operate a truck in violation of the safety rules (i.e. using defective equipment or operating beyond one’s hours of service). If the driver can show carrier retaliation, OSHA can force the carrier to give the driver his old position and responsibilities and even require the carrier to give the driver back pay. This protection is little known by truck drivers, and this training would be very helpful.

The last subject, driver wellness, does not directly pertain to any regulation. This training would provide information on better health practices for drivers. Given the sedentary work and poor nutritional options on the road, truckers face many challenges trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Truck drivers are thought to have a greater incidence of major health problems and a shorter life span than the general population. It is the connection between a healthy individual and safe driving that is probably motivating the FMCSA to include this topic in driver training programs.

Some shortcomings
These are worthy subjects for truck driver training. But this rulemaking is curious for two reasons. First, it requires training after someone has obtained a CDL. It would seem more logical to make it a part of the CDL process so that there would be only one qualifying activity and one qualifying document necessary to become a truck driver. 

Second, it continues to ignore the most needed subject in driver training, how to drive a truck. Time will tell if FMCSA will combine these driver training efforts with a proposal for a graduated CDL to provide a comprehensive scheme for improving the skills of new truck drivers.

No timeline has been set for the implementation of these rules. The agency will review and mull public comments on these proposals, and then publish a final rule with an effective date sometime in the future.

Reauthorization of the highway program
Meanwhile, Congress is in the midst of working on legislation to reauthorize federal highway programs. Known as SAFETEA (Safe and Efficient Transportation Equity Act), this bill would reauthorize most DOT highway programs, as well as the FMCSA’s safety and enforcement activities. 

This bill is also an opportunity for lawmakers to change DOT policy on highway and motor carrier issues. These programs expired Oct. 1, 2003, but because Congress had not made much progress on their reauthorization, it passed a temporary extension of the current law until February 2004.

Washington Insider previously reported that the Bush administration has proposed giving DOT the option to eliminate broker registration and bond requirements. The Senate Commerce Committee passed its policy portion of the reauthorization bill back in the summer without this provision. 

In the beginning of November, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed its portion of the highway bill dealing with highway programs. Just before recessing for a winter/holiday recess, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee introduced its version of the bill. There are many differences among these bills.

The primary source of disagreement among lawmakers and with the White House is how much money will be spent on highways. Equally important is whether and how fuel taxes or tolls will be increased to pay for the roads. In some instances, lawmakers are billions of dollars apart in their plans. This issue, and not motor carrier safety policy, will be Congress’ first priority as it works to come to an agreement before its new February deadline.

NAFTA — Just say no?
A resolution has been introduced into Congress asking President Bush to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-VA, introduced the resolution (H. Con. Res. 224). Rep. Goode cites several issues in support of his resolution. The first are the safety and homeland security issues presented by allowing Mexican trucks into the country. Rep. Goode is also concerned about the increase in the trade deficit and hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs lost in the United States since the implementation of NAFTA. 

President Bush continues to vigorously pursue the opening of the U.S. border to Mexican trucks despite two efforts to slow him down. First, last year Congress required the FMCSA to beef up border inspection facilities and increase inspections at the border. 

Congress also required FMCSA to perform compliance reviews of Mexican carriers before their trucks are allowed to enter the United States. 

Second, a federal court has required the FMCSA to do an environmental impact review of the proposal to allow Mexican trucks into the United States. These efforts have slowed the opening of the border, but have not stopped it. By asking that the president withdraw the United States from NAFTA, Rep. Goode’s resolution asks the president to put a stop to this effort.

Intermodal container repair legislation
A bill has been introduced to Congress to place legal responsibility for the safety and repair of intermodal equipment on the owners of such equipment rather than on motor carriers. The Intermodal Equipment Safety and Responsibility Act of 2003 was introduced to the House as HR 2863 by Rep. Henry Brown, R-SC, and as S 1776 by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-CO. This bill was written to address the problem of drivers and carriers who have been stuck with the tickets and fines incurred for poorly maintained equipment that belongs to intermodal companies, especially those at the ports.

How to call legislators to voice an opinion
If you agree that opening the border to Mexican trucks is a bad idea, or would like to voice your support for the intermodal equipment repair bill, you can call your congressman and senators to ask that they become a co-sponsor of either or both of these resolutions. 

You can call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 225-3121 and ask to be transferred to your representative’s office. Ask to speak to the legislative assistant (“L.A.”) following trucking issues. 

Ask your representatives to co-sponsor H. Con. Res. 224 (the anti-NAFTA bill) or HR 2863 (the intermodal equipment bill in the House) and ask your senators to co-sponsor S 1776 (the intermodal equipment bill in the Senate). Leave your name and address and ask that they send you a response to your request. Only by telling them your opinion will they ever learn their constituents’ opinions.